Hi Ho Hi Ho - It's Off to Work We Go

Do you have happy workers? Productive workers? Loyal workers? So many news stories address the financial dimensions of THE pension issue. While important, ultimately the story is about the employees, isn't it? Ignoring tax considerations, companies provide benefits to protect human capital. Though this asset shows up nowhere on a company's balance sheet, it is nonetheless vital to profitability and growth. This is especially true for countries and industries where intellectual prowess determines success or failure.

According to a recent article in FORTUNE, the new paradigm urges managers to "hire passionate people". Citing research done by Christopher Bartlett of Harvard Business School, employees "want a sense of purpose". (See "Tearing Up the Jack Welch playbook" by Betsy Morris.)

In their best-selling book, First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman regale the reader with countless suggestions as to how to manage people more effectively, including the need to keep people motivated.

Ironically, at a time when identifying and cultivating human potential is paramount, some leaders are still missing the mark. In today's Wall Street Journal, Erin White describes the disconnect between what companies say their performance reviews are supposed to measure versus what employees describe as their perceived opportunity set to advance and contribute. (See "For Relevance, Firms Revamp Worker Reviews".)

With so many companies shifting away from defined benefit plans, will there be a concomitant change in worker happiness? Do employees really choose a work situation based on benefits? Could plan sponsors be taking a short-term view without acknowledging long-term consequences? Do employees favor a parental approach or is individual empowerment the touchstone (in which case 401K and other choice-focused plans make perfect sense)?

There are no easy answers. People genuinely disagree about the role that benefits (quality, quantity, form) play in attracting and keeping good people.

One thing is certain, however. Corporations everywhere (U.S. and abroad) will be affected by changing demographics (recently described elsewhere in this blog). An oft-discussed dearth of skilled workers compels companies to think long and hard about the link between benefits and the bottom line.
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